The National Human Rights Commission has for the first time investigated the death of a person in “crossfire” and concluded that no gunfight had actually happened.
A three-member fact-finding committee led by a director of the commission was formed after the media reported that 41-year-old Rajab Ali alias Kala Rajab had been killed in a “gunfight” between his accomplices and police in the early hours of February 16 in Jessore.
No proof of the gunfight was found, said the committee members in their report after a four-day investigation.
According to the case statement filed with Keshabpur Police Station, a police team led by Officer-in-Charge Abdul Jalil arrested Rajab at Jhakra under Jhikargachha Police Station around 10:45pm with the help of Jhakra police camp.
Three hours after his arrest, police took Rajab, an accused in 22 cases, including robbery cases, to a bamboo cluster at Mirzanagar village around 1:45am to “recover illegal firearms Rajab used for robberies”, according to the case.
It claimed that Rajab's accomplices opened fire on the law enforcers and the police returned fire during which Rajab got shot. His accomplices fled, leaving behind a gun, two bullets and a 26-inch dagger. Rajab was taken to Keshabpur Upazila Health Complex where doctors declared him dead at 2:10am, says the case statement.
The probe committee of the commission learnt that police had woken up some villagers in the middle of the night and asked if they knew the deceased and got them to sign documents they were carrying with them.
One of the villagers, Abdul Karim, who was made a witness in the case, told the committee members that he was awake then and heard the firing of a gun before the police arrived at his house around 2:00am.
When he stepped out of his house, the police asked him to accompany them.
“The policemen lit a torch and I saw a body lying flat, face down, on the ground wearing a shirt and a lungi,” he told the committee members. “I saw dried up blood and a knife near his head and a pistol near his legs.”
He told the policemen he did not know whose body it was but they forced him to sign a paper.
Another witness, Shamsur Rahman Khan of the same village, told the commission officials that he was woken up by policemen and he too was taken to where the body was. He told police that he did not know who the deceased was.
He said he did not see any injured police personnel.
He was made to affix his fingerprint on a document the police had with them. They even had the stamp pad to get the finger print.
The commission had talked to Rajab's relatives, doctors of Keshabpur Upazila Health Complex, morgue assistant of Jessore General Hospital, the person who bathed Rajab's body, locals and members of the law enforcement agencies in connection with the probe.
It also examined documents like first information report (FIR) and post-mortem report at the hospital and found many discrepancies in the police story.
The committee also faced resistance from the police department during its probe since it did not have any legal authority to investigate the law enforcers.
It said although Rajab was arrested with the help of the Jhakra police camp, the general diary filed there did not mention it. The diary said Rajab was arrested at 10:45pm on February 15 and the “gunfight” took place at 1:45am on February 16. It did not mention where Rajab was kept in those three hours.
The committee, verifying the first information report, also found that police first mentioned the killing of an unidentified person but later crossed it out and put Rajab's name in.
Chairman of the Commission Prof Mizanur Rahman submitted the probe report to State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Kamal on Monday.
“Our conclusion in this particular case of Rajab Ali is that the incident of his killing was not a gunfight. The shooting by police was not in self-defence,” he told The Daily Star.
He said the commission had been voicing its concerns before the home ministry on each incident of “crossfire” killing and had been seeking enquiries. It had issued around 200 letters related to human rights violations to the home ministry since January 1 but nothing was done.
Mizanur said they picked up Rajab's case following an editorial published by The Daily Star on February 17 urging the commisison to do more than just sending letters to the ministry.
According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), there were 49 extra-judicial killings in the country in first two months of this year. Besides, five people were killed in “gunfights” involving law enforcers in the first five days of this month, according to The Daily Star reports.
In 2009, the number of extra-judicial killings stood at 229, in 2010 at 133, in 2011 at 100, in 2012 at 91 and last year it was 208, according to annual reports of ASK.